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When I started getting interested in food and cooking in the late 1970s, every local community had its own greengrocer, butcher and grocers. I lived in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh and what is now Oddbins was a large fruit and vegetable shop. It was always packed on a Saturday morning. I loved going there, trying new vegetables and fruit that weren’t part of the normal Glaswegian diet and chatting with the staff. Shopping for food on a Saturday morning was an enjoyable experience.

We moved away from Edinburgh and when we came back 20 years later, Bruntsfield still had its small shops – butcher, greengrocer, fishmonger and a couple of delis. There were no local supermarkets but their invidious influence was already obvious. The greengrocers was struggling and the opening of a Tesco Metro killed it off. Sainsbury’s took over the excellent Peckham’s deli; Oddbins went bust and we feared the local shop would shut. Bruntsfield looked as if it was going the same way as so many other places – bland high streets, ‘metro’ supermarkets, chain coffee shops and estate agents.

Dig-in Bruntsfield - our new community greengrocers

Dig-in Bruntsfield – our new community greengrocers

But we were lucky. The new owners kept the Oddbins shop open; some chain coffee shops moved in but so did smaller business – German pastry and bread making skills in Falko’s and their French equivalent in La Barantine. We still have a local fishmonger and butcher but what we lacked was a greengrocers.

Until now. Local folks in Bruntsfield have got together, bought shares and supported a fabulous new initiative – a community greengrocers that opened today. Dig-in Bruntsfield sells fruit and veg from local suppliers and is run by and for local people. I couldn’t get to the official opening but a couple of hours later when I went there the shop was still buzzing.

The produce display

The produce display

Local suppliers

Local suppliers

Everything looked fresh and attractively presented. I bought a few things – cabbage, carrots, onions, tatties and broccoli – all Scottish grown. I was delighted at the high quality and reasonable prices – 65p for 4 baking tatties (compared to £1 in Asda and Sainsburys according to my supermarket.co.uk).

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Karen and Susan (the shop manager)

It really wasn’t like a supermarket at all – food in boxes instead of plastic trays and staff who smiled and had time to chat to customers.There were no bleeping machines or synthetic voices warning about items in the bagging area.  Given the prices and the ambiance here, why would anyone want to go to Sainsburys for expensive packaged veg?

The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating. We ate carrots, cabbage and onions from Dig-in and spicy Italian sausages from Wm Christie, our local butcher (lentils were from Waitrose but hopefully we’ll soon be able to get them locally too). It was good.

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Italian sausages with lentils, carrots and cabbage

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In the circles that I move in, business lunches are not normally something to look forward to. These are not lavish affairs but are usually sandwiches filled with some kind of mayonnaisey gloop and crispy unidentifiable things. You don’t really know what you’re eating, it looks industrial and it never tastes very healthy.

However, this was an exception. We had a working lunch in Granite Park, a restaurant in the centre of Aberdeen and it was definitely a good deal better than normal. We went for the fixed price 2-course menu. This offers a choice of 6 starters, mains and desserts for £15.

All of the starters sounded good – I finally settled on the open tartlet of goat’s cheese with poached pear and candied walnuts. I’m not normally a great fan of deconstructed food but this really was more of a poached pear on a pastry base than a tart. Served with honey, it looked and tasted really good.

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Open tartlet of goats cheese with poached pear and candied walnuts

Mains included the now-standard posh burger, fish and chips, mussels and seared beef. I really enjoy traditional fish and chips so I decided to go for this.  It was a large piece of fish served on a bed of chunky chips with some home-made tartare sauce. This is a standard and Granite Park did it well.

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Fish and chunky chips

We didn’t have puds but had coffees and were served some tasty petits fours.

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Petits fours served with coffee

This was a good lunchtime experience – good service, a pleasant setting and I didn’t even have any problems finding a parking space. We don’t eat out much in Aberdeen in the evening but I’d be happy to go back to Granite Park. 

We visited the Three Birds in Bruntsfield shortly after it opened in 2012 and, while some aspects were OK, overall I was disappointed (review here). I am not normally forgiving of sub-standard meals and if I get one, that’s it, I rarely go back.

However, my daughters went there for a meal recently as it was one of the few places open on a Monday evening and they thoroughly enjoyed it so, we thought we would give it another try. Being a canny Scot, rather than risk a more expensive evening meal we went for one of their fixed price lunches on Easter Monday.

We imagined it would be quiet but when we went in, we found out they were fully booked. This was a good sign.  Luckily we were early and we promised to eat fast so managed to get a table that was booked for 90 minutes later.

The lunch menu is short – 5 starters and 5 mains – £9.50 for 2 courses. As you would expect for this price, the food is quite simple but lots of the options sounded good. I decided to start with the Pistou soup with Toulouse sausage. This was great – very flavoursome with basil, lots of vegetables and bits of sausage.

My wife and daughter both had the smoked salmon – which they enjoyed. This is not something I ever order as it’s something you can buy good smoked salmon in supermarkets but it seemed a nice enough example of the dish.

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Pistou soup with Toulouse sausage

My main course was harissa spiced mackerel with potatoes and a beetroot, radish and orange salsa. I love mackerel and but haven’t had it with harissa before. It really worked! A super main course although I’m not convinced that the orange really added much to it. My daughter also had mackerel and my wife had meatballs from the daily specials menu. I had a taste of them and they were equally good.

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Harissa-spiced mackeral

So, the Three Birds has redeemed itself in my eyes. Portions were not large but just right for lunch. We had a glass of house red (Montepulciano) and white (Sauvignon Blanc) which was very palatable. Good atmosphere and service. We finished within 90 minutes but we didn’t feel hurried at all.

We will be back for dinner.

Castle Terrace is considered by some people to be the best restaurant in Edinburgh. I’d been for lunch before (see my review) but never for dinner. So, when my daughters asked where I wanted to go for a meal to celebrate my retirement, I didn’t hesitate and chose to come here with my family.

We decided on the tasting menu – 10 courses (PDF here).  The presentation style here is simply to list the main ingredient rather than present a descriptive name for the dish. I really like this simple approach.  Given the range of dishes, it doesn’t make sense to talk about starters, main courses so I’ve used the menu titles here.

Canapes
We started with some interesting looking canapés that tasted as interesting as they looked. The green one was my favourite – A liquid tasting like Caesar salad in some kind of gelatine casing.

Canapes - Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Canapes – Caper and cumin burger, Salt cod barbajuan and Caesar salad

Appetiser
Then we were presented with what looked like a small cup of soup. But it wasn’t – the soup was a cheesy sauce with a ‘potato’ at the bottom. Rich intense flavours from ordinary ingredients.

Pre-starter

Baked potato and cheese

Salmon
We moved onto the first starter – salmon tartare with what looked like an olive. Again, an illusion – the olive was wasabi. Fresh tasting with a kick from the horseradish.

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Tartare of salmon sushi style

Scallops
A single perfectly cooked scallop with a curry sauce – not a combination that I would have imagined but it worked really well.

Scallop with a curry sauce

Scallop with a curry sauce

Broccoli
This was an extra course, because of our celebration. Blue cheese ravioli and intensely flavoured broccoli soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a fresh green in broccoli soup.

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Broccoli soup with Dunsyre blue cheese ravioli

Spelt
I’d never had spelt before – it’s an old type of wheat – presented here in a risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart. This was absolutely outstanding – probably my favourite dish. Melting risotto with deep intense meaty flavours to accompany.

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Spelt risotto with crispy ox tongue and confit veal heart

Hake
I love fish and this did not disappoint. Perfectly cooked with Asian flavours to accompany.

Hake with Asian-style brothPork
Pork fillet cooked in the now fashionable water bath so that it is pink and perfectly tender. Accompanied here by fennel and basil gnocchi. This was a very good example but I think this style of cooking is a bit overdone nowadays. Although it’s not so tender, I actually prefer pork cooked with heat.

Pork

Pork fillet with braised fennel, aubergine puree and basil gnocci

Rhubarb
A rhubarb panna cotta with sorbet and caramelised oats. Again, this was lovely but perhaps the most conventional part of the meal. A friend had visited earlier in the month and praised the caramel soufflé and I guess I was hoping for this.

As it was a birthday meal as well as a retirement meal, the restaurant had made us a small chocolate birthday cake.  I thought that this was a really nice touch – but unfortunately, I messed up the photo so no record here.

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Rhubarb panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet and caramelised oats

Tea and coffee
Good coffee as you’d expect but the petits fours to accompany were superb. We were absolutely full but naturally managed to enjoy these.

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

Castle Terrace Petits Fours

We didn’t go for the matching wine package as our experience at Kitchin was there was simply too much to drink. Rather, we had a bottle of Spanish Alberino and a French Pinot Noir. The wine was fine but not outstanding. Frankly, the markup on wine here is eye-watering and I always grudge paying so much. But running a Michelin star restaurant is an expensive business and I guess they need to cover these costs.

Overall this was an absolutely superb meal – Castle Terrace’s reputation is really well-deserved. Great service and ambience and, thank goodness, a reasonable level of lighting. I dislike ‘mood lighting’ where you can hardly see what you are eating. Naturally it isn’t cheap – £75 each for the tasting menu but the food was so different and so original that I think it’s worth the money.

Is this the best restaurant in Edinburgh? I’m not sure. I’ve always liked Martin Wishart’s restaurant in Leith but I haven’t been there for a while. But we have another family celebration coming up there and I’ll reserve my judgement till then.

Kings Wark, Leith

I’ve blogged about the Kings Wark pub in Leith before and suggested that it was a great place for lunch in Leith.

We went back there for lunch this week and I had a superb seafood chowder as my main course. It came with chips which were a bit unnecessary really but, of course, I ate them (everybody likes chips).

Seafood chowder

Seafood chowder

Excellent and friendly service. My recommendation still stands.

Sylvesters is a relatively new restaurant on the corner of West Nicholson Street and Potterrow, close to Field, which we visited recently. It was a familiar site for me as I used to work with colleagues in Informatics at nearby Edinburgh University and we often lunched at what was then Phenecia, which became the Pink Olive.

It’s been refurbished as a clean modern space and, from overheard conversations, It’s still patronised by university folk. We went on a Friday in January, which is not the busiest time in the restaurant business, but there were enough people there to create a good atmosphere.

The menu is a short, bistro-style menu which does not have pretentions to ‘fine dining’ and so is not stupidly expensive. I started with Camembert, onion and fig tart. Instead of a traditional tart that I expected, this was a deconstructed layered tart – but no less delicious. Others had Haggis Bonbons i.e. deep-fried haggis balls. These have become a wee bit of a cliche in Scotland but these were very good.

Grilled Camembert, onion and fig tart

Grilled Camembert, onion and fig tart

My main course was Jacob’s Ladder – something I’d never heard of before. It was slow-cooked short rib of beef (which apparently is called Jacob’s Ladder) with Dauphinoise potatoes and spinach. It was absolutely delicious and not at all stringy as sometimes happens with slow cooked beef.  I also tasted the pork and the hake – the fish in particular was excellent.

Jacob's Ladder - slow-cooked short rib of beef

Jacob’s Ladder – slow-cooked short rib of beef

We had a present of Prosecco as an aperitif and a pleasant but unremarkable New Zealand Pinot Noir to drink with our main course.

The service was excellent and very friendly and the price was reasonable – about £28 per head.  Sylvesters confirms the usual Edinburgh rule – you get the best value for good food if you get out of the city centre. Definitely worth revisiting.

The Cock and Bull, a few miles north of Aberdeen, won the Scottish Gastropub of the year for both 2012 and 2013. We’d tried the Sunday carvery there  but had never been these for a regular meal. Today, four of us went there for a weekend lunch.

It has a ‘traditional’ pub look – fortunately, not ‘Scottish traditional’ (formica and bright lights) but traditional in the ingle-nook, wood fires and dark corners way. A cosy place for a winter’s day.

They had a shortish selection of starters, all of which sounded nice – I was tempted by the Cullen Skink but decided on the black pudding Scotch egg with homemade brown sauce. A good choice – it was delicious.

Black pudding Scotch egg

Black pudding Scotch egg

Being in the North-east, the main course had to be fish so I had Peterhead Cod with smoked fish risotto and kail.  Smoked fish risotto is quite common now and all too often the fish is over-smoked and dominates everything else. Fortunately, they got it right here and the risotto complemented the delicate cod. I like to see kail on the menu now – it isn’t the most attractive vegetable when cooked but it tastes great.

Cod with risotto

Cod with kail and smoked haddock risotto

One of the Cock and Bull’s specialities is the Cock and Bull dog, which is a giant hotdog with pulled pork. I couldn’t resist a photo. It was very tasty but challenging to eat.

The Cock and Bull

The Cock and Bulldog

We were too full for puds but had coffee and fudge, which our fudge experts pronounced excellent.

It was £20-£25 for two courses and coffee – not a cheap lunch but not too bad for a day out.

Well worth a visit if you are in the area – great pub food.